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City Releases Disappointingly Vague Reports on Joint Terrorism
Draft JTTF reports were released on February 13, in response to a community letter sent by Portland Copwatch (PCW) and community groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the National Lawyers Guild. The letter re-stated several items requested by the ACLU in June 2011 and asked for information on security clearances, as well as a two week window for community feedback before the reports were finalized.
The epitome of the February 29 JTTF hearing was when Commissioner Amanda Fritz continued to push the Chief about reporting the number of investigations, the types of investigations, the number of hours spent by the PPB in the JTTF, and to list how many meetings he attended with the JTTF Executive Committee or the Special Agent in Charge. Each time Fritz would push her point, another member of Council would caution her not to talk about "sensitive" information in this public forum (Mayor Adams), ask whether she was briefed by the City Attorney (Commissioner Nick Fish), or proclaim that they had no interest in the details she was requesting (Commissioner Randy Leonard). Finally, the Mayor said he would no longer allow Fritz--an elected City Council member-- to speak, and called the question. As PCW wrote to Council in a follow-up, that move by four men against one woman smacked of the stench of sexism. The vote to accept the Mayor and Chief's reports was 4-1, with Fritz opposing.
The community testimony was much shorter than other JTTF hearings, but just as meaningful. The ACLU's David Fidanque thanked the City for adding in some information in the final draft, but expressed concern that details (such as those repeated by Fritz) were not in the report. Dan Handelman of PCW opposed the City working with the FBI using the undefined guideline of a "criminal nexus," calling attention to how PCW's parent group has been spied on twice by the Criminal Intelligence Unit (the division that works with the JTTF--PPR #19). Handelman also referred to the FBI's numerous sting operations, including the "Holiday Tree bomb scare of 2010" (PPR #52).
Mary McWilliams of League of Women Voters raised issues of transparency and democracy, asking whether two Libyan Americans detained by the FBI in February were in any way tracked by the Portland Police. Jim Kennedy of the Arab Muslim Police Advisory Council told the Commissioners how many in their community had lost trust in the police since the resolution was passed last year, adding that while the Bureau isn't technically a member of the JTTF, that doesn't matter to most local Arab and Muslim Americans who simply do not trust the FBI.
The Chief admitted that his appointment book is a public record, so the number of meetings with the JTTF is public information (though he did not promise to reveal it). He also said they might release the number of and the level of investigations ... but only as a cumulative total four or five years down the line. The Chief wrote that PPB officers are "only allowed to work on investigations related to terrorism as defined in federal criminal law ... we have adhered to the City Attorney's explanation... of the term 'criminal nexus.'" It is unclear whether that means the Portland Police are participating in FBI investigations based on rumors or hunches ("preliminary investigations" or "assessments") illegal under 181.575. The Chief would only say that he had "committed a very limited amount of PPB resources to JTTF work, so disclosure of the number of cases or hours worked would be likely to compromise ongoing investigations and reveal the operational tempo of our work on terrorism." He reported that he had attended more than two briefings with the Task Force, but would not say how many. His responses are indicative of the reason the community has been discouraging the PPB's work with the FBI since the discovery of the JTTF/Portland relationship in 2000 (PPR #23): secrecy is an anathema to a free and open society.
However, it did emerge that the Chief, Assistant Chief Eric Hendricks, the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) Lieutenant and the two CIU officers working with the JTTF all have received "Secret" clearance. The Chief applied for "Top Secret" clearance but was waiting for a reply, and it was determined the officers did not need that level of clearance to do the work needed. This is important, since Mayor Tom Potter had withdrawn from the JTTF when the FBI would not grant him the same clearance as his employees in 2005 (PPR #36). Unfortunately, Mayor Adams does not have his "Secret" clearance, so if Reese gets the top tier certification, we will be back in the same scenario that led Potter to pull out. Also, the City Attorney, who is supposedly consulting with all City employees involved to ensure they follow state law, does not have any security clearance at all.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who at a previous hearing exclaimed he did not want any of the information the ACLU requested to be in the report, voted in favor of the reports and complimented the ACLU and the Mayor for a balanced report that didn't reveal too much. It is unclear, for instance, how "people who would do us harm" (as Leonard called them) would act differently if they knew the names of the officers in the CIU. On that note, it was revealed at the hearing that the Lieutenant at CIU is Larry Baird, and the two City Attorneys referred to in the reports are David Woboril (day-to-day operations) and Ellen Osoinach (training and oversight). Why that was OK to say at Council but not in the report? Also a mystery.
That morning, the Council voted on a resolution which solidified the PPB's role in the IRS Task Force, calling for reimbursement in case of overtime. At an earlier hearing, Commissioner Leonard had requested for all police hours to be reimbursed by the feds, but he was convinced the City gains as much or more in resources to investigate financial crimes as it loses by assigning a detective full time. Commissioner Fish, addressing concerns raised by PCW, said that the $750,000 the Bureau has taken in from federal forfeitures is not budgeted annually, but does come under Council supervision.
While the IRS agreement requires the PPB to follow Oregon law, there is no oversight mechanism in place. Mayor Adams stated at the February 22 hearing that he wanted to brief Council members on "key opportunities we are trying to grow as it relates to the money making aspects of violent gangs." This indicates that rather than chasing "gangs" because they commit violent crimes, the Mayor is looking for a pretext to arrest them for other reasons. The Mayor became quite defensive when PCW raised this observation on the 29th. Surprisingly, Commissioner Saltzman understood the concerns, noting that the IRS was used against political organizations in the 1970s, but added that he trusts the PPB not to do so. It is significant that PCW had to pull the IRS task force off the consent agenda (voted on without discussion) both in August 2011, when the working agreement first appeared, and in February. The Chief referred to the agreements as "routine," even though Assistant Chief Hendricks explicitly stated this was the first time since the Bureau started working with the IRS in 2009 that a formal agreement was being signed.
PCW never got an answer to another question we raised: Were the Portland Police exposed to any of the biased training about Muslims that the FBI was giving as documented in September and updated on February 15 by Wired magazine?
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.